x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Labour ministry sets up special unit in war on trafficking

Minister says those who trade in people, mainly for prostitution or forced labour, 'threaten welfare and security'.

DUBAI // The Ministry of Labour yesterday became the latest government body to set up a special unit to investigate human trafficking. It joined other agencies, including Dubai Police, the Ministry of Interior and the Abu Dhabi and Dubai public prosecution departments, that already have dedicated anti-trafficking units.

"This is a very good step taken by the Ministry of Labour," said Dr Saeed al Ghufli, the co-ordinator of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking. "It is a recommendation that has been discussed for some time and something the committee has been pushing for." The move is part of the Government's overall strategy to tackle the problem, said Dr al Ghufli. "There has been a plan for every authority which is connected with human trafficking matters to have their own unit," he said.

"This shows that the UAE is really trying to work on the prevention, protection and prosecution of trafficking." The new anti-trafficking unit would operate under the ministry's inspections division and would identify and investigate potential trafficking cases in the labour market, WAM, the state news agency, reported. The unit will also monitor compliance with local employment legislation. Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, described the move as a "pre-emptive strategic initiative", WAM reported.

"The UAE Ministry of Labour firmly believes that human trafficking represents a threat to the welfare and security of our society and national economy and, consequently, to the proper functioning of our labour market," he said. "It threatens the interests of workers and employers alike. That is why we acted to establish a dedicated section in accordance with the federal Government's strategy, in co-ordination and full co-operation with the concerned authorities, especially the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking."

The new unit will co-ordinate with the other dedicated bodies. Its role will include increased scrutiny of recruitment agents that bring workers to the country. "The ministry would report any suspicions, take action or raise it with the committee," said Dr al Ghufli. In recent years, more focus has been placed on preventing migrant workers from being lured to the UAE by the promise of legitimate employment only to fall victim to human traffickers.

Law 51, the UAE's anti-trafficking legislation, includes punishments of up to life imprisonment for offenders. The law refers to victims trafficked for reasons including sexual exploitation and forced labour. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 79 per cent of victims worldwide are trafficked to work in the sex trade, followed by those who end up in forced labour. The ministry was also working to improve the labour inspections process and was "actively engaged" in the development of standards to improve conditions for workers - something set out during the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, WAM said.

The dialogue was a conference held in 2008 between worker destination countries, including several Gulf countries, and countries of origin, such as India, Nepal and the Philippines. zconstantine@thenational.ae